London: Showing Todd My City and Meeting Friends
Wednesday, September 14
While the wedding plans hadn't been terribly stressful, it was a relief to be in the airport and waiting for our flight. As anyone knows who has followed my travels, I really enjoy flying. Long haul flights are hard on the body, but with a hundred free movies to choose from and a good vegan dinner (pasta with vegan cheese!), I am always excited. This time, it was extra fun watching Todd take it all in.
We arrived in London just in time for the hottest days I've ever experienced here. 85, humid, and places struggling to keep up air conditioning. We made it to our hotel early, so dropped off our bags and headed to a small Italian restaurant nearby. The first good meal after flying always tastes miraculous if you find the right place. We ate, smiled, and zoned out.
Since we couldn't check in until 2pm, we went to an easy to visit sight not too far away: Westminster Abbey. I understand why they don't allow photography, but I wanted so badly to capture the old tombs, architecture, and glass. When Todd and I first started dating, I had to tell him of my early morning plans to watch live the wedding of William and Kate at Westminster. I remember being curled up on the couch, watching the pageantry, and thinking of this new guy I was dating.
The Abbey is one of those spectacular places because of its history. It's not as jaw dropping perhaps as some of the churches we will see in Italy, but it has the tombs of so many people, Kings, and queens, most importantly, Queen Elizabeth I. I'd forgotten that she is buried right above her sister, Mary (aka Bloody Mary). After an hour or less of Jeremy Irons lulling us on the free audio guide, it was time to check in and collapse.
The AC in our room was having a hard time cooling the place down and our wifi wasn't working, but we zonked out for three hours. I empathized with Todd who was experiencing the misery of jet lag for the first time. We woke up refreshed and ready for our first night in London. We got all spiffed up, hopped in a black cab, and wound our way to Leicester Square.
Todd has three things on his list of must dos in London: theater, Tate Modern, and the Tate. We checked off the first one right away with the stunning performance of "No Man's Land" by Harold Pinter at the Wyndham Theater. When I was searching for plays back in June, I wasn't seeing a whole lot of exciting options, until I landed on this one starting Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Could we really see this play? I searched and there were only 6 tickets left for the entire week we were in London, but all on the night we arrive.
We are so glad we took the jet lag risk and booked this play. It's no surprise that the play was excellent with these two men at the helm, but the two other supporting actors (Owen Teale from GoT and another bloke) were also excellent. The play was at turns absurd, hilarious, and melancholy. The set was simple - a mini bar, an arm chair, a few wooden chairs, and a few side tables. The focus stayed on the characters, the drinks they were imbibing, and the comings and goings of everyone but McKellan who always was on stage. It was their preview week, but the house was full and the performances on point.
We meandered our way back to the hotel where we collapsed easily and slept decently well. Todd slept through the night but I was up for a bit around 3am, using my alertness to Facebook photos.
Thursday, September 15
Thursday was our planned full sightseeing day, and we started it well with a warm breakfast at the coffee shop next door. A pot of tea, some eggs Benedict for Todd, some beans and toast with avo on the side for me. A protein burst for us both to start the day.
First stop: Tate Modern. I had only visited this museum once and ages ago, so it was great to visit with Todd who knows so much about modern art. Our first date was at the Art Institute, so art has always been a part of our relationship. We spent the first hour looking through the second floor permanent collection, including stunning works by Pollock, Krasner, Monet, Degas, Rothko, and Richter--and so many others that I hadn't encountered before.
We spent the second hour doing the special Georgia O'Keefe exhibition. Todd is a great art date, and he had so much to share that complimented what the exhibition notes and art notes showed. A good exhibit inspires you to spend money, and we did: exhibit book and postcards.
We then scurried off to the Charlotte Hotel, where we had booked a high tea. Jayne had told us about their vegan high tea offering. It was another hot 85 day, and the hotel restaurant wasn't air conditioned, but the food and tea were worth it. I enjoyed a vegan high tea with cucumber, red pepper, and veggie sandwiches; scones with vegan butter; raspberry sorbet; chocolate cake; a small bowl of berries; and a few other mini cakes. With my rooibos tea, it was delectable. Todd had an assortment, as well: sandwich, smoked salmon sushi, scones with jam and clotted cream, quiche, a fish croquet, raspberry cheese cake, and other mini cakes. Delicious.
We both felt well and not exhausted after tea, so we decided to visit the British Museum nearby. We made it through a bit of the Egyptian gallery and the Rosetta Stone before the exhaustion hit. So, we found one of the few really air conditioned rooms to recoup before plotting our next strategy.
We had tickets for the 7pm concert at St Martin's, so we weren't sure if we wanted to trudge to the hotel for a brief rest before it. We opted to head to Trafalgar Square to find a coffee shop with AC. The temperature was starting to drop, so we sat on the steps of St Martin's and let it cool us down. After a brief respite in the AC at Pret-a-Manger, we went across the street to the National Portrait Gallery.
I was last at the NPG last summer with Candice, when we visited the Audrey Hepburn photography exhibit, but it's been awhile since I meandered through the holdings. The museum was a blissful temperature, and we had a comfortable hour seeing the 20th/21st century photographs and paintings. I love how all the portraits are specific to both the subject and the artist. We ended the hour with a required visit to Queen Elizabeth I's many portraits.
We finished off the day with one of my favorite things to do in London, an evening candlelight concert at St Martin's. (I love that I've been visiting London for so many years-22 to be exact-that I have favorite things to do.) The church was a little warm, but we made it through without falling asleep! A wonderful baroque concert of two Bach pieces (Concerto 3 and one other) and Vivaldi's Gloria. We came out into a nicely chilled evening for our journey back to the hotel, where the AC was working but not the wifi. You can't have it all, but you can get close!
Friday, September 16
Today was a day for friends. The weather agreed. It rained all morning and into the afternoon so it was a good day not to run around.
My good friend Claire was in the hospital last week, and she wouldn't be able to make the wedding lunch tomorrow. So, we went down to Eastbourne to have lunch with her and her parents, the lovely Marie and Gerry. Claire met Todd in 2013 when she was in Chicago, but it was great to have them reunited and have her parents meet him.
I brought my dress on the trip, and we staged a reenactment of the wedding, including Todd engineering the music we had played. Claire received a gorgeous flower bouquet in the mail, which was the perfect compliment! So we all laughed, shared stories, and did a photo shoot. It meant the world to share our wedding stories with them.
After a delicious lunch, we packed up the dress and headed back into London and up to Welwyn Garden City to see Jayne, Scott, and Charlie. Some rail strikes started today but none of our train lines were affected, thankfully.
Last summer, Charlie was a cuddly three months. This summer, he has found his legs and his voice. We had a fun hour of playing with him, hearing about his escapades, and hearing his words from duck to fart to gargoyle (something like gargle). Then, it was time for him to go to bed, and we adults convened for an amazing dinner and conversation. We four were last together in Chicago in 2013, so it was quite a wonderful evening.
The major gifts of all my travels are friendships. Claire and I met at Nottingham University in 1994 while I studied here for the year. Jayne and I met in 1998 at Rhodes University in South Africa. Over the years, these two friendships and so many others have grown into some of the most important in my life. And now these friends know Todd. Life is good.
Saturday, September 17
Our last full day in London had some rap orders to fulfill. We packed our daypack with weddings clothes, change of shoes, camera, and odds & ends. We headed out to first find Todd his full English breakfast. We opted for the Wetherspoon's at Victoria station, as our hotel wasn't any help at telling us where to go.
We then hopped in the tube and headed to the Globe. We hopped off at Blackfriars stop again and walked back across the Millennium Bridge. It was 60F or so, 20F cooler than Thursday when we sweltered across the bridge. Today we had on layers and windbreakers, and it was a perfect walking the city weather.
We made it just on time for the 10am tour at the Globe. It was a fast tour, but worth it. In trying to decide between how to use our morning two hours, Todd had to choose between the Tower, which would have been rushed, and The Globe. Seeing as it's the 400th Shakespeare anniversary, that won out!
I do love everything about this place: from the history about where the building once stood, the stories of what seeing a play was like 400 years ago, to the modern rebuilding with its attention to detail. The first time I took a tour here was in 2000 with mom and grandma, so I definitely felt nostalgic. Now it was Todd's turn to take it all in.
After the tour, we meandered along the south bank to Tower Bridge. The Bridge was up for boats to sail through, and we watched it reposition before we meandered across, with me taking photos of every angle. I hadn't been on this bridge in so long, and it's so beautiful. We then sat along the Thames and relaxed on a bench. With the Tower behind us, we rested our feet before taking a saunter around the ramparts. Next time we will do it properly, but we just didn't have time on this trip. It is such a beautiful building.
We then hopped in the tube and headed to the Islington neighborhood for our 1pm lunch at La Petite Auberge. Our friend Jayne had recommended it as a perfect place for our wedding lunch. We arrived, changes into our fancy wedding clothes, laid out the table decorations, and waited for our guests.
Having studied in England (1994-1995) and South Africa (1998) for a year each and traveled back many times, I have been fortunate to make many good friends. Joining us for our wedding brunch: Lucy, a woman I met in Illinois in 1993 while she came over for the summer to work at a GS camp where I worked; Debbie, who I met in my dorm in 1994 in Nottingham and we bonded over literature and Queen Elizabeth 1st, and her lovely husband Stephen and daughter Daisy; Claire, who lived in the same postgrad women's house with me in 1998 in Grahamstown, South Africa, and last but not least, Jayne, who I also met in South Africa doing our English Honours degree together, and her lovely hubby Scott and son Charlie.
It was a wonderful lunch full of old friends and most of them meeting Todd for the first time. We caught up, ate wonderful food, and enjoyed almost three hours together.
When we said our goodbyes, we headed off to Tate Britain for one final museum visit. We only had an hour but that was all we needed. Unfortunately, Todd's paintings he most wanted to see where out at other exhibitions in other cities. We did see some amazing Turners, Blakes, and Pre-Raphaelites, so certainly a highlight. After a farcical moment of being forced out of two different entrances when I had gone in search of the restroom, we found each other and trudged back to our hotel.
We spent out last night in London packing up and reorganizing. Thanks to the help of a restaurant owner who didn't have anything in the menu for vegans, he sent us to an amazing Chinese restaurant down the street, Ken Lo's Memories of China.
It's been such a wonderful visit in London. The best part is there always friends to return to and more places to see.
Now we are sitting in Victoria station and waiting for the Gatwick Express. Next stop: Venice!